Alcohol on board plus cabin pressure can lower blood oxygen and increase heart rate, even in young and healthy people

6 Min Read
Credit: CC0 Public domain

The combination of alcohol and cabin pressure at cruising altitude could threaten the heart health of sleeping airline passengers, especially on long-haul flights, suggests the first study of its kind, published in Thorax.

The duo reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood (SpO2) and increases heart rate for a longer period of time, even in young and healthy people, the findings show.

The higher the alcohol consumption, the greater these effects may be, especially among older passengers and those with pre-existing medical conditions, say the researchers, who suggest now is the time to consider restricting access to alcohol on board on long distances . to flee.

Atmospheric pressure decreases exponentially with altitude, causing blood oxygen saturation levels to drop to about 90% (73 hPa) in healthy passengers at cruising altitude, the researchers explain.

A further drop in SpO2 below this threshold is defined as hypobaric hypoxia ‚Äď or low blood oxygen levels at higher altitudes.

Alcohol relaxes blood vessel walls, increasing heart rate during sleep, an effect similar to that of hypobaric hypoxia. Therefore, the researchers wanted to find out whether the combination of alcohol plus cabin pressure at cruising altitude could have an additive effect on sleeping passengers.

Therefore, they randomly assigned 48 people between the ages of 18 and 40 to two groups, stratified by age, gender and weight (BMI). Half were assigned to a sleep laboratory under normal air pressure conditions (sea level) and the other half to an altitude chamber that simulated cabin pressure at cruising altitude (2,438 m above sea level).

See also  Former Tesla board member says he wouldn't vote for Musk's $56 billion pay package

Twelve people in each group slept four hours without drinking alcohol, while twelve people slept four hours after drinking alcohol for one night, followed by two recovery nights and then another night in which the process was reversed.

Participants drank the equivalent of 2 cans of beer (5%) or 2 glasses of wine (175 ml, 12%) in pure vodka at 11:15 p.m., and their sleep cycle, SpO2and heart rate was monitored continuously until 4 a.m.

The final analysis included results from 23 people in the sleep laboratory and 17 in the altitude chamber.

This showed that the combination of alcohol and simulated cabin pressure at cruising altitude caused a drop in SpO2 to an average of just over 85% and a compensatory increase in heart rate to an average of almost 88 beats/minute during sleep.

This compares to just over 88% SpO2 and just under 73 beats/minute among those who slept in the altitude chamber and had not consumed alcohol.

Among those in the sleep lab who drank alcohol, the corresponding figures were just under 95% SpO2and a heart rate of just under 77 bpm and just under 96% and just under 64 bpm for those who had not.

Oxygen levels below the healthy clinical norm (90%) persisted for 201 minutes with the combination of alcohol plus simulated cabin pressure at cruising altitude. This is comparable to a period of 173 minutes without alcohol and 0 minutes with and without alcohol under sleep laboratory conditions.

The deepest sleep (N3 phase of the sleep cycle) was reduced to 46.5 minutes under the combined alcohol exposure and simulated cabin pressure at cruising altitude compared to both sleep laboratory conditions: after alcohol, 84 minutes; without alcohol, 67.5 minutes.

See also  More doctors can prescribe leading addiction treatment. Why don't more people get help?

The period of REM sleep was also shorter in those exposed to hypobaric hypoxia and alcohol. Both N3 and REM sleep are important phases of the recuperative sleep phases.

The researchers acknowledge the small sample size of their study and that the participants were young and healthy, so they do not reflect the general population.

In addition, the participants slept supine, a luxury typically afforded only to those flying first class, so the findings may not apply to the same extent to the bulk of airline passengers flying economy, they add.

Nevertheless, they state: ‚ÄúTogether, these results indicate that even in young and healthy individuals, the combination of alcohol ingestion and sleeping under hypobaric conditions places a significant strain on the cardiac system and could lead to worsening of symptoms in patients with cardiac or pulmonary disease. .”

These effects could be even greater in older people, the researchers suggest, adding: “Cardiovascular symptoms occur in 7% of inflight medical emergencies, with cardiac arrest causing 58% of aircraft diversions.”

They conclude: ‚ÄúPractitioners, passengers and crew should be informed of the potential risks, and it may be useful to consider changing regulations to restrict access to alcoholic beverages on board aircraft.‚ÄĚ

More information:
Effects of moderate alcohol consumption and hypobaric hypoxia: implications for sleep, oxygen saturation and heart rate of passengers on long-haul flights, Thorax (2024). DOI: 10.1136/thorax-2023-220998

Provided by British Medical Journal

Quote: Alcohol on board plus cabin pressure can lower blood oxygen and increase heart rate, even in young and healthy people (2024, June 3) retrieved June 4, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-06- inflight-alcohol-cabin-pressure-blood.html

See also  Study claiming antidepressant withdrawal is less common than thought doesn't take into account risks in long-term users

This document is copyrighted. Except for fair dealing purposes for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *